Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers
Kirby — the comics giant best known for creating or co-creating Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Thor, the New Gods saga, and dozens more — was not at the top of his game when he created this book about a bunch of space patrolmen protecting the galaxy from bad guys. The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide, a British compilation of comic-book reviews, even went so far as to proclaim it “utterly stupid and a barrel of laughs, but sampling an issue or two at random is probably quite enough for most of us.”
Stupid or not, the first issue’s blurb proclaiming the book to be something “New – Exciting – Original!” was right on the mark in one respect. It signaled the beginning of a novel concept in the comics industry — creators retaining the rights to their work and being paid through royalties. Even the cover’s tag line, “In Defense of our Galaxy!”, seemed prophetic, as the book set a precedent that helped to protect comic writers and artists from the not-always-tender mercies of the publishers.
Up until the 1980s, comics were created in conditions much like the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s and ’40s; artists would work as employees for comic-book companies, who would pay them a per-page salary for their work. If those creators came up with a character that became wildly popular and made a lot of money, they might have gotten a little something for their efforts, but royalties — income from continued sales of their work — were out of the question. (In the most infamous example, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster signed away the rights to their creation to DC Comics early in their career and lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars. It took decades before public opinion forced DC to negotiate a fairer settlement for the aging creators.)
Kirby was no stranger to the studio system — if he had received royalties from the sales of his decades’ worth of work, there’s no doubt he would’ve been a multi-millionaire at the end of his career. Maybe his years as a part of the system at Marvel and DC in the ’60s and ’70s embittered him, or maybe he was just tired of seeing his ideas get taken away from him. Whatever his motives, Captain Victory was the result.
Pacific Comics, the company that published his book, didn’t agree with Marvel and DC’s business models and was an ideal place for Kirby to experiment. First, it was one of the first companies that went completely direct market, bypassing the normal distribution system and selling directly to comic shops. It also published titles in which the creators were allowed to keep the rights to their creations. It was the start of a revolution that would see artists across the board receive fairer compensation for their efforts. Eager to keep their artists from jumping ship, Marvel, DC, and other companies experimented with new ways to keep artists happy. For example, Marvel’s 1980s imprint, Epic Comics, was an attempt to foster quality creator-owned comics, and the comic companies tried new payment schemes that more closely tied compensation to sales generated by the artists’ work.
And then there’s Image Comics. Often called the “Fox Network” of comics by both its admirers (who liked the fact it provided some competition for Marvel and DC) and detractors (who bemoaned Image’s apparent emphasis on style over substance), Image carved itself a tidy niche in the 1990s as the place where artists can develop and control the rights to their own ideas. Considering the impact Image had on the industry in the last years of the 20th century, it’s humbling to think it all started with just one small book that a giant created on one of his not-so-good days.
From The 100 Greatest Comics of the 20th Century By Mitchell Brown
Did you know…
Just some examples of the kind of dialogue a Kirby fan would confront during the course of the 13-issue series:
“Is there a Goozlebobber somewhere in mid-flight above your area?? You won’t know until his crew contracts the dread galactic condition known as — COSMIC DIARRHEA!”
“Finarkin kills with a devious brain!”
“That alien pariah can give one a mental hernia! Warts! CLOSURE OF THE PORES — and an insatiable desire for ACUTE DEPRESSION!”
“What? WHAT? I say ‘Bull-Chips’ in your cereal, sir!”
“He’s reacting to monumental surges of anti-death!”